There were four of us sat at the craft table. There was a new guy at the end—at least, I think he was new because I don’t recall seeing him before at any of these wellness sessions. He sat quietly and patiently but smiled at me when I sat down, and I know I smiled back.
“Luca,” he introduced himself and extended his hand first to Madison, who used her good hand to shake, her entire other arm hidden away in padding under the sling.
“Madison,” she returned his smile.
“I’m Owen,” the third of us said. A nervous smile was about all Owen could muster.
Then it was my turn. “JC,” I murmured and offered my hand. There were no visible signs of injuries in Luca, but I noticed that even though he smiled, that he couldn’t quite meet anyone’s gaze. God knows what was going on behind his eyes, but it wasn’t my place to ask, and I certainly didn’t want to speculate.
Other than the four of us, the only other person in the room was Toby-the-garden-guy, and it seemed he was leading this event this morning. I wonder what the aim of today was—only aware that it was likely a teambuilding thing that I could potentially mess up like the last one. Hell, the previous team thing I did, I ended up running from the room and tracking down Adrian. Of course, that was more about Adrian not being where I could see him than the fact that I couldn’t pull my weight in a bridge-building exercise. I’m a grown man, and I couldn’t even hold wooden sticks long enough for the glue to stick, for fucks sake.
Embarrassment 1, JC 0.
I hope this thing today doesn’t involve glue or holding things still.
I wish Adrian were here to help me.
“Okay, so as some of you know, I’m Toby, and I work here in the gardens with you all. Morning.”
We all said morning as if we were at school and he was a teacher, in that sing-song way that only kids could do best. He grinned at us, sketched a wave, and then continued. “We’ve decided to bring the outside in, creating a space inside for a kitchen garden, and this week we’re at the planning stage. We need to come up with ideas of how we might build a kitchen garden that is half inside and half out, but instead of sitting with paper and pen, I thought we could throw some ideas around as we paint up these pots.” He gestured behind himself at two cardboard boxes. “We have a ton of broken or messed up flower pots that need fixing and painting, and maybe we need to think of a theme, or not, but as we paint, it would be cool to come up with ideas.
Great. Ideas. I didn’t have many of those right now.
“So, let’s start with the pots.”
Luca limped over to the box before anyone moved, rummaging through it and pulling out some pots. He handed a large one to Owen, who seemed impressed that it had a massive crack around the top that looked like a miniature Grand Canyon—his words, not mine.
He gave Madison two pots, identical in size, terracotta, both with cracked rims, and then mine was an unblemished pot.
Not a sign of a crack, or a hole, or anything.
“Perfection for perfection,” Luca said with a wink, and I couldn’t look at him. Was he flirting? Did he really wink at me? The hell? “And I got this one.” He hauled over the biggest of the pots he’d found, with a surface pitted with dents, on one side and perfect the other. “See? This is the pot version of me,” he laughed, and we all smiled along with him.
He didn’t stop talking for the longest time. From the weather to movies, to jokes he recalled, he filled the quiet space with chatter, and I was torn between asking him to stop talking and listening with a smile to his stories about his childhood on a farm in Missouri.
Toby tried to keep him on task, but he was a livewire who didn’t want to be slowed down. Only when he deemed his pot decorated enough did he go quiet and seem to settle down—as if he had used up all his energy, and now he could chill and work with the rest of us.
The remainder of the session was talking through ideas about the kitchen garden.
“What if we build something outside the door of the dining room? So you open the door, and you walk straight into a structure that has another door then to outside?” Toby suggested, his fingers white from where he was painting his own pot with a cloud design. My chest tightened. That sounded so good–I could get involved without having to be outside in the vast garden that left me feeling so exposed. “Does anyone here have experience with design or construction?”
“I’m an engineer… was an engineer…” Owen murmured, although he didn’t look up from his work. “I could draw something up.”
“That’s great, so we could have the garden spill into the rec room as well, herbs, chilies, that kind of thing.”
“I like cooking,” Madison added, but same as Owen, she didn’t look up.
I didn’t have anything to add to the conversation, but I was happy to listen. I was busy concentrating because the idea of the green leaves in my head was a mess so far on the pot I was painting. I tried really hard to form the leaves, but my right hand was shaking, and I had to rest my arm on the table, which made painting awkward. Just the simplest of tasks was frustratingly complex, and I closed my eyes hard, willing my hand to stop shaking, feeling sorry for myself, wishing that Adrian was here to… I don’t know… finish the painting for me? Tell me that I was doing, okay?
Madison cursed as her pot slid out of her hold. Her right arm was in a closed sling, and she was trying to hold her pot still while still attempting to paint. I reached over with my non-shaking hand and held it still for her.
“It’s a fucker I had to lose my dominant hand,” she said in the way of a thank you. “Can’t hold things for shit in my left.”
Luca cleared his throat and gestured to his legs. “Left leg, below the knee, transtibial,” he murmured, and I glanced down to see the glint of metal at his ankle.
Madison nodded. “Right arm, transradial.”
The two veterans nodded at each other, connected through the horror of their injuries.
And there was me with a shaky hand thinking my world had come to an end. Don’t forget the remains of a bullet in my head. PTSD. Night terrors.
“It’s just my head that’s messed up,” Owen said and laughed as if he was making a joke.
“And mine,” I said, and Owen held out a fist for me to bump.
“Head twins,” he said with a wry smile.
“We should form teams,” Luca interjected. “See who beats who in a race.”
“I’d just run in the wrong fucking direction,” Owen snorted. “Seriously, no joke, I’ve lost all sense of direction and fall over a lot.”
“I can’t balance,” I said. “I’ll just collapse after the fifth step.”
“Fuck if I’m racing anyone and hurting my other arm,” Madison deadpanned.
“It would have to be a hopping race, though, to make it fair for me,” Luca added.
And then all four of us were laughing, with our half-finished pots in front of us and gallows humor working its weird-ass magic.
I felt lighter—even gave up drawing leaves and instead painted my entire pot in graduated shades of green as we chatted about shelving ideas.
It was possibly the best pot I’d ever painted—even if it was the only pot I’d ever painted.
I called that a win.
And I couldn’t wait to share the success with Adrian.
Watch your inbox next Monday for the next post
HAVE YOU READ?
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